JULY 2013 IN

Less Printing

Computer printers are becoming less important as people print less. I wrote two years ago about the decline in ink-jet printing as laser printers reached price parity. Laser printers are much less expensive to operate, so in home offices especially, I predicted inkjet printers would give way to laser printers. That has indeed been happening, but more people are also going without a printer.

The decline in printing is harder for me to notice as I print mailing labels on a daily basis, yet I realize I am no longer printing very much else. I am nearing the end of writing a new book, and for the first time, I did not print the whole thing out to proofread it on paper. Going over on several different screens was sufficient, and perhaps I saved time by not going through the chore of printing a long document.

I think about the documents that people traditionally print, and it makes sense that there is less printing going on. Letters. For many people, letters have been reduced to an annual Christmas-season letter sent to everyone on the list. Photos. The only reason to print photos is to include them in a letter, and to make the photos look better, you may want to take them to the kiosk at the local drugstore and print them there. Otherwise, photos are shared online now, and I don’t know anyone who still prints online photos for storage purposes. Invoices. It is the rare business that cannot easily receive invoices in electronic form now. Recipes. I still print recipes because I don’t want to take my computer into the kitchen — but mostly, I use the same 20 recipes over and over again, so it is not that often that I print a new recipe. Blog posts. Why would you ever print a blog post? Tax forms. Amazingly, tax authorities still want forms on paper, but that is just at a certain time of year. Maps. No need to print them if I am taking my phone along.

There are still airplane tickets and store coupons that may have to be printed, but even this is not the way it was a couple of years ago. All in all, the average home computer user is probably printing 50 pages a year, and this is so few that you can get away with using someone else’s printer. People come to my home office to print documents. I certainly don’t mind. It’s an excuse to see people, and it will still take me years to go through an $80 toner cartridge. The same thing, I realize, must be happening everywhere, with people printing on their parents’ printer, their bass player’s printer, or the printer at the office. In a pinch, you can even print documents online and have them mailed to you. Okay, that is not much simpler than buying a printer and having the printer mailed to you, but it still might be less work than maintaining a printer that you barely use.

It is not so much that people have soured on printed documents, but that owning and maintaining a printer may be more of a hassle than it is worth. Of course, now that so many people don’t have a printer of their own, businesses are adapting so that printed documents are no longer a strict requirement. The inevitable result is that more people decide that they too don’t need a printer. It’s a snowball effect as there are fewer things to print, fewer people have printers of their own, and people are printing fewer things.

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